The Legislation Would Improve Vermont’s Existing Medical Aid in Dying Law:
The Patient Choice at the End of Life Act took effect on May 20, 2013. Under the law, terminally ill, mentally capable adults with six months or less to live are able to request and self-administer medication that allows them to peacefully end their suffering, should they choose.
However, many eligible patients are not able to access the law as a result of unnecessary regulatory requirements. After carefully evaluating how the current law is working in comparison to other authorized states, S. 74 proposes a few slight modifications to the law that will allow more eligible patients to access medical aid in dying while still protecting medically vulnerable populations:
- Remove the requirement that medication requests and an examination by the physician be done in person. Vermont’s current law requires that a patient make both oral requests for medication in the physical presence of a physician. The law also requires the prescribing physician to conduct a physical examination of the patient to determine that the patient is suffering from a terminal condition. By eliminating the in-person requirement, more patients can access end-of-life care through telehealth, which is regularly used by providers in other jurisdictions where medical aid in dying is authorized. This is especially important given the increased risk of COVID-19 associated with in-person care visits.
- Remove the requirement that the physician must have waited at least 48 hours after the occurrence of certain required events before writing the prescription. Vermont’s current law requires that patients wait 15 days between the first and second request for medical aid in dying. It also requires the physician to wait 48 hours after the last of the following events have occurred: the patient’s written request for medication; the patient’s second oral request; or the physician’s offering the patient an opportunity to rescind the request. The longer timeline has proven to be a barrier for individuals seeking medical aid in dying rather than a safety feature. S. 74 would shorten the timeline for access to medical aid in dying by 48 hours, while maintaining the 15-day timeframe between the first and second request. Laws in other authorized jurisdictions, like California and Colorado, do not include the 48-hour period, and the Oregon law gives doctors permission to waive it.
- Extend immunities to any person who acts in good faith compliance with the provisions of the law. Vermont’s current law provides immunity to physicians only. S. 74 would expand immunity to any person who acts in good faith, including pharmacists. Most of the other medical aid in dying laws extend immunities to any person, which helps to improve participation rates among providers such as pharmacists.
Additional Information About the Bill:
- Sen. Richard McCormack
- Additional Sponsors
- Sen. Alison Clarkson
- Sen. Virginia Lyons
- Sen. Michael Sirotkin
Compassion & Choices Website:
For More Information:
Northeast Regional Advocacy Manager at Compassion & Choices